After years of living in Paris, Emma Ogilvie and her French partner Nick Landsman planned to do a six-month stint in Auckland to see Ogilvie’s family. They wound up not only staying, but opening Bar Céleste – an intimate bistro inspired by the couple’s two home countries, focusing on organic and natural wines. Having watched the natural wine craze take off in Paris bistros, they wanted to replicate the model in New Zealand.

“We’ve definitely seen the scene really start taking off,” Ogilvie says of the new venues in the area. “On K [Karangahape] Road, it feels like there have been openings one after another. It has turned into a hub for music and creative events, and in the last few years it’s become a real gastronomic hub, too. Sort of the heart of Auckland’s independent dining.”

Starting with a series of pop-ups called La Peche (“The Peach”), the pair opened Bar Celeste in late 2019, having noticed “a lot of room for growth within that owner-operated type of venue, working seasonally with produce”. The cosy 50-seater offers an aperitif hour every weekend, as well as oyster happy hour. Share plates are stacked with in-season ingredients – think fried Jerusalem artichokes drenched in hollandaise, sliced tomatoes topped with anchovies, capers and a spicy aioli, and snapper cru with figs and mint. Being a small space, it tends to book out early for the weekend, especially among fans of small Kiwi winemakers.

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Ogilvie and Landsman also own Star Wines, a bottle shop just a few doors down. Between the restaurant, the shop and the Star Wines online store, the couple are determinedly bringing natural wines into the limelight.

“We’re pouring a fairly extensive wine list at Bar Celeste,” says Ogilvie. “And then you can walk a few doors down to our wine store and get an even bigger selection of wines from New Zealand, France and all over the world. Everything is organic and most of the wine is natural. So it’s the same ethos as the restaurant.”

As more people are becoming aware of natural, organic wines, Bar Celeste and Star Wines are there to help with the learning process. “Education has been a real focus for us,” she says. “People are pretty open-minded. It’s really about getting them to be more mindful about what they’re drinking. People are becoming more aware of the difference that organic farming can make.”

The couple brought that same combination of wine and food knowledge to Broadsheet’s Aotearoa Awaits event in Sydney in May, curating snacks and drinks including the off-menu Croque Forestière (which is essentially a deluxe mushroom toastie). They wanted it to reflect the more “interesting dining experience” they’re seeing Kiwis seek out lately. “Timing-wise, there’s heaps of other people that have returned [to New Zealand] from overseas and brought back whatever inspiration or styles of dining that they experienced,” Ogilvie says.

That extends not just to Auckland, but to Christchurch and even small places like Queenstown. “Like most countries, you’re starting to see a new wave of operators coming through,” she says. And now that borders are starting to open again – there will soon be fresh ranks of international travellers tasting their way through the blossoming New Zealand culinary scene.

“We’re definitely looking forward to more international visitors coming in,” Ogilvie says. “I think it adds a lot of vibrancy to the city and makes it more fun for us.”

This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Tourism New Zealand.